Beans are the most important grain legume in human diets. Beans are healthy, versatile and affordable, providing a highly nutritional mix of protein, energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Over 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on beans as a major staple.
According to the Lancet 2013 series on maternal and child nutrition, 35 per cent of children in sub-Saharan Africa are affected by malnutrition. In addition, maternal and child micronutrient deficiencies such as iron, zinc and vitamin A deficiency are also major public health concerns. While there are a number of factors that cause malnutrition, food-related interventions address the root causes such as hunger and monotonous diets.
Increasing the availability, accessibility and consumption of micronutrient rich beans is helping to address this.
Through beans, our nutrition work focuses on improving the nutrition and health status of rural communities as well as the most vulnerable groups, including women, children, the urban poor and people living with HIV and AIDS. We do this in several ways:
- Biofortification: We work with the PABRA breeding programme to increase iron and zinc content resulting in micronutrient rich beans. Biofortification uses conventional plant breeding and modern biotechnology. PABRA has developed 39 micronutrient rich bean varieties, with a further ten under evaluation.
- Nutrition education and awareness: We work with communities to improve the diets of smallholder farmers by encouraging them to consume their own crops. We also share bean recipes and preparation skills with mothers, which has improved the quantity and frequency of bean consumption in household diets.
- Dietary diversification: PABRA promotes a food basket approach, consisting of locally available fruits, vegetables, meats, roots and tubers along with beans to provide a well-rounded diversified and nutritious diet. We also promote the cultivation of community kitchen gardens, producing healthy fresh food, to foster diet diversity.
- Bean-based products: Through partnership with the private sector/ industry, we develop and promote the commercialisation of nutritious value-added bean products. Products developed so far include bean-based porridge flour for use in school feeding programs.
By working with cottage industry players such as food vendors and local restaurants, PABRA has also developed a wide range of bean-based snack foods such as biscuits, samosas and finger rolls to satisfy local demand for healthy snacks.